Interview with Christoph Schwarte, Executive Director of Legal Response International (LRI)
Congratulations on the launch Christoph. Please tell our readers: What is the Paris Agreement mobile app?
The Paris Agreement is the main law and policy tool of the international community to tackle climate change. It is of course available as a PDF on the internet, but we made it more accessible through a guidebook with explanations that fits in your pocket. We published the last version of the printed booklet just before the pandemic started and unfortunately, we never had an opportunity to give it out. We hoped to give it out at COP26 in Glasgow in 2020, but as circumstances changed with the pandemic we decided to develop an app too.
By launching the Paris Agreement mobile app in partnership with o2h Tech we have made the text of the Paris agreement and explanations available on mobile and tablet for everyone to download and browse.
What made you choose to go digital in the otherwise very paper-based world of legal word?
If you get an opportunity to watch the clips or news items from the COP26 – all the delegates are constantly on their phones. They use messaging apps to contact each other and browsing information. It makes sense to add the Paris Agreement to their phones.
In addition, the parties that are working together under the Paris agreement are taking further decisions and it will be easier for us to make these updates in the app, than to update a printed copy. o2h Tech really helped translate this idea into something new.
You are right that lawyers still have to continue using PDFs and word documents. There are not many legal apps around yet and as far as I’m aware no-one else has done what we have done with the Paris Agreement. When you go into the app store today and search “Paris Agreement” – you will see the first result is our app. We are proud of that!
go into the app store today and search Paris agreement – you will see the first result is our app
What is Legal Response International (LRI) and what is your interest in the Paris Agreement?
The objective of our organisation is to support small developing countries on legal issues in and around these international climate negotiations. We provide free legal advice through a network of law firms, barrister chambers, universities, and hope to level the playing field between actors in the international negotiations. a little.
A lot of the small countries we work with don’t have lawyers on their team. And as a result, they may struggle to understand some of the legal provisions and implications. We explain what the legal text of the Paris Agreement means, the framework, the mechanisms, and what they can do now or in the future to get their interests in there. E.g. how to get more support for developing countries to adapt to climate change. There are a lot of questions about rights and obligations, i.e. about what countries should or should not do. We provide the advice independently without a political agenda. Sometimes the countries take it on board and use it, sometimes they don’t.
Do you think we are on the brink of seeing all legal work being digitised and online?
In the international law and policy arenas, a lot of industrialised countries (the EU member states, the US or UK) are pushing for a more virtual decision making process in general. When you go to these international meetings it is all very old-fashioned. You have the delegates together in a room and you see them discussing text and language: should we use this wording or that wording? And you think: why don’t they just share a google doc and work from home?
international law meetings are very old fashioned – Why don’t they just put up a google doc?
So there are discussions on this, but since the internet and wifi do not work properly in some parts of the world, without in-person meetings, some countries would be excluded from effective participation. And it is important to ensure that there is a fair level playing field for all participants. There are still discussions whether some parts of COP26 will be virtual, but it also depends on the pandemic situation and political climate.
Who is the target user base for the Paris Agreement app?
We developed the app primarily for climate change law and policy makers worldwide. We expect it will find most use for the experts in these negotiations, the delegates from different countries. probably predominantly the developing country parties.
However, the app is free for anyone to download, so even young people could use it or whoever is interested in the Paris Agreement and wants to understand better what the international community is doing around climate change. I have heard a lot of journalists also like it.
What feedback did you receive from users to date?
“This is nice. Will definitely make use of it.”
Huzi Mshelia, Nigerian lawyer and climate delegate:
“This is amazing… Thank you… Certainly very helpful”
What is your background?
I qualified as a lawyer in Germany 25 yrs ago and immediately found a job in the UN system. I did not really practice German law and served as a “proper” UN civil servant for 6 years at the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea.
When I moved to the UK I started working in the third sector in international environmental law and for the last 10yrs as executive director of LRI. I have spent a lot of time in international negotiations on climate change. From my experience, I can see that the interest in the Paris Agreement is shifting from creating an international agreement to “how do we implement it in practise”. As a result, we do a lot of work in supporting national legislation. We have for example organised workshops with government departments in Botswana, Ethiopia, Nigeria and others. I am not an expert on the different national laws, but I can tell the local lawyers what the international framework looks like and they can decide how to best implement it.
Have you developed other apps before?
No, developing and launching the Paris Agreement app was my first experience in the world of apps.
However, we do have experience at LRI at digitising legal information and using virtual platforms. As part of our work we produce legal advice papers and we put them all in our database. The database is free on our website, you can look for keywords and specific issues eg “carbon zero” or “climate finance”. And guess what, it is the most popular area on our website. Why? Because people are interested in our advice and they find it easily in our database. The Paris Agreement app is a whole new type of tool, which also gives access to the papers in the database.
What is next for the Paris Agreement app?
We are planning to update the app after COP26 in Glasgow and to make the whole app available in French as well. While its development was sponsored by the UK government as part of the Climate Ambition Support Alliance (CASA) we are still looking for future funding!
What was your experience of working with o2h Technology for implementation of the Paris Agreement app?
Working with o2h Tech was a great experience – very well organised, efficient and competent. Craig and the development team helped us to share legal content in an accessible format.
I do not understand the technology. Luckily, our database manager could communicate with the developers in India, when technical details were needed to connect to our database and other resources.
My role in the development was to provide the overall app vision and confirming we got the right info in the right place in the app. It was a very productive experience. At times it was really hard work to get into the technical requirements of building an app. We have been thinking about apps in other areas as well, but now that we understand a bit better what is involved from our side, our first objective is to maintain and update the Paris Agreement app and promote it to everyone in connection with COP26.
Thank you very much for the interview and all the best for your meetings in Glasgow and COP26 to be productive!
Christoph Schwarte, Executive Director of LRI was interviewed by Fiona Nielsen, CEO of o2h Technology